Oct. 10, 2001 — A six-hour Senate Finance Committee meeting Tuesday night will likely produce a handful of initiatives aimed at stimulating the economy in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the mainland and subsequent retaliatory strikes.
The most immediate effort will be pushing through legislation for the V.I. Technology Park. University of the Virgin Islands President Orville Kean told senators that if a proposed bill becomes law by the end of October, a business forum can be held in December.
Top representatives from 40 to 50 of the nations leading tech universities and companies have shown interest in attending the forum, Kean said. Attendees could represent Microsoft, Stanford University, KPMG, AT&T, IBM, Deutsche Bank and Sun Microsystems.
The forum, Kean said, "would be the first in a series to promote the territory and the technology park."
But, he added, "there will be no interest for the forum without having the legislation in place."
Finance Committee Chairwoman Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen vowed to push the technology park legislation through the Senate, which has tentatively scheduled a full session for Oct. 25.
Kean also noted that 18,000 hotel room nights will be generated by four NCAA basketball tournaments scheduled for November at UVIs new Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas.
Wendell Snider, president of the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association, was less optimistic in his appraisal of the near future, particularly for the Big Island. He said that since Sept. 20, retailers, restaurants and taxi drivers have seen business slump 25 percent, 60 percent and 75 percent respectively compared to last year.
As of Monday, Snider said, 70 tourists and about 170 business travelers were staying in hotels on St. Croix. He said St. Thomas had 538 rooms occupied, which is less than the number of rooms at the Frenchmans Reef Hotel.
"Our economy is basically shut down and revenues for our local government wont be there for at least 90 days," Snider said.
Along with revisiting the idea of a public-private tourism authority, Snider said that hoteliers, particularly small inn owners, will need help with mortgage payments and Water and Power Authority bills. For example, Snider said for the 37-room Hibiscus Beach Resort, which he manages, his WAPA bill accounts for 15 percent of his expenses.
"With the occupancy we have, it will be virtually impossible to pay their WAPA bill," he said. "Yes, we need a deferment or a step down. That would be helpful to the industry."
John de Jongh Jr., president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, said any stimulus package must contain language that establishes a tax reform commission, a tourism authority and a provision to hire a transportation consultant. A plan that puts the Turnbull administration, the Legislature and the private sector on the same page needs to be developed, he said.
"While I dont prescribe to doom and gloom, I do think we need to be practical," de Jongh said.
He noted that discussions with Turnbull advisers concerning a temporary moratorium on gross receipts taxes showed this wasnt possible because a recent bond issue is backed by GRT revenue.